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Education / Don’t lose momentum on making case for change in pupil equity funding scheme, councillor says

Lerwick Town Hall.

COUNCIL officials have been urged to keep speaking up for remote and rural areas like Shetland when it comes to the “completely unfit for purpose” pupil equity funding scheme.

Lerwick councillor John Fraser said the Scottish scheme, which gives extra funding to schools based on the number of pupils registered for free schools meals, was one of his “pet peeves”.

Members of Shetland Islands Council’s education and families committee heard on Monday that the local authority received around £230,000 through the scheme in 2020/21.

This was spread between 23 schools, ranging from £1,000 to £33,000.

Head teachers are responsible for developing plans for the use of their school’s allocated funding.

But the Scottish Government’s pupil equity fund, designed to tackle the attainment gap, has long come under criticism for not accurately targeting pupils in Shetland who experience disadvantage because they are widely dispersed.

Last year Shetland received the lowest allocation of any local authority area in Scotland.

The issue was raised again at Monday’s meeting when children’s services director Helen Budge brought a report on a recent audit of how the council deals with the funding scheme.

She confirmed that a distribution model for a second round of funding is under discussion.

Councillor John Fraser.

Budge said representations have been made highlighting that “we don’t feel [pupil equity funding] fully reflects our remote and rural situation”.

Fraser said he did not want the council to lose momentum on the issue and asked how well remote and rural communities are represented in this review.

Budge said regional body Northern Alliance are represented in some of the talks, as is the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland.

“In our directors’ conversations that we have as an association we do make the points very strongly and very clearly abut the remote and rural local authorities,” she added.

“I would say it’s a much stronger voice than perhaps we had previously.”

Meanwhile Budge’s report also confirmed that a breach of pupil equity funding criteria had been identified in Shetland.

But as the situation was resolved by the council, no action was taken by the Scottish Government.

“We recognised that we had broken the criteria by the actions that a school had taken, and that was then rectified, so there was no consequence for us,” Budge said.